Can Employers Enforce The COVID-19 Vaccination In The Workplace?

2021 is looking a little brighter for the UK with the biggest immunisation roll-out well underway and the approval for use of a second COVID-19 vaccine.  Some people, however, are sceptical about the speed at which the vaccines were approved and are unsure about getting the vaccine.

This raises many questions especially for employers and business owners who have a legal duty to protect people in the workplace from potential harm including the spread of Coronavirus.

Can the COVID -19 vaccine be made mandatory at the workplace?

The HSA vaccination guidelines state that “where the risk assessment shows that there is a risk to the health and safety of employees due to exposure to a biological agent for which an effective vaccine is available, employers should offer vaccination free of charge to their employees”.

In line with this, employers can offer vaccination to those who are not already immunised, but employees have the right to refuse since vaccination is not mandatory in the UK and cannot be given without consent (Act 1984).

Can employers ask whether employees have had the COVID-19 vaccine?

Personal health data, including immunisation records, is considered highly sensitive and is classed as “special category data”. Processing health data usually requires a freely given consent but the GDPR Article 9(2)(i) permits processing without consent if it is necessary to protect against serious threats to public health.

Employers must ensure that processing their employee’s health data is necessary and are required to comply with the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 when handling the data. They must ensure that they are only collecting information that is relevant, adequate, and limited to what is required to fulfil the purpose.

In term of vaccination, this means employers can only obtain information on whether the employee has had the vaccine, any additional information would be considered unnecessary.

How can employers encourage vaccination in the workplace?

Employees can refuse vaccination for several reasons including health, personal belief, or religious reasons. An enforcement of a vaccination policy in the workplace would be considered as prejudicial and discriminatory.

Employers can encourage vaccination among employees by offering training and educational workshops to promote the benefit and highlight the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

Employers can meet privately with employees who refuse the vaccine to further explain the benefits. In the case of religious or health reasons, employers need to be understanding and considerate. They should take reasonable steps to offer support to those employees while ensuring the health and safety of others in the workplace.

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